The Premier League has always gone through waves of periodic dominance, with teams rising to become the new force within the English top division. We have seen Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City become the best team in this country since the few format of the top tier was introduced, with a shelf life always evident within their respective reigns. Right now, Pep Guardiola and his Etihad team are the driving force, yet the recent charges will probably see their own demise become reality, sooner or later. Newcastle is desperate to gate crash the top table, yet the recent flexing of the Premier League’s FFP muscles may mean their ascendancy will take some time. One thing that has not changed, however, is the biggest spectacle game on the calendar, one which garners the attention of the entire football watching world. Liverpool are Manchester United are the biggest draw in this rich sporting franchise, with this particular game it’s jewel in the crown. This season has seen one rise and the other stutter, but the contest on Sunday still promises to be a tremendous encounter, one which could well define each other’s end of season hopes.
In terms of availability, Erik ten Hag comes into this game with Donny van de Beek, Christian Eriksen, Anthony Martial, and Mason Greenwood all unavailable for selection. Luke Shaw & Jadon Sancho face late fitness tests, though should be fit to make the match day squad. With 49 points taken from 24 games played, the Red Devils are in good health, with a top four finish looking likely. They spent a week as title contenders (recently), yet that appears to have faded away.
With good progress being made in Europe, and a run in the FA Cup ongoing, this is quickly becoming one of their best seasons since Sir Alex retired. That theory came to fruition after their triumphant League Cup victory over Newcastle, last weekend. Soon after that 2-0 Wembley win, they were able to overcome West Ham in the other domestic cup. That FA Cup 5th round tie ended with the Hammers on the end of a 3-1 away loss, to send the Dutch manager into the next round. Prior to the FA Cup Final, ten Hag had overseen an impressive 2-1 win at home to Barca, that saw them into the next round of the Europa League. The two League games leading into the battle with the Catalan club, saw them easily overcome both Leicester and Leeds. In terms of recent form, it would be hard to argue their credentials as the nation’s form team, which is ideal for them, before such a huge trip to Anfield.
The starting line-up will see David de Gea start in goal, behind Raphaël Varane and Lisandro Martínez at centre back. Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka as the more defensive minded fullback options, which will likely see them start. A double pivot of Casemiro and Fred will operate behind Bruno Fernandes, with Marcus Rashford and Antony on the flanks. Through the middle will see Wout Weghorst deployed in the lone striking role.
Liverpool come into their next Premier League game on the back of a very solid 2-0 win against Wolves. Prior to that victory, they had played out a very uninspiring 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace, just days after their Anfield humiliation against Real Madrid. Despite this difficult season of regression, the reds have actually taken 10 points from their last three games. Wins against Newcastle and Everton came before their Champions League humbling, which places them in 6th position in the Premier League. With a disappointing 39 points taken from 24 games played, the rest of the campaign becomes a about catching and overtaking those currently occupying the top four spots.
On the injury front, Jürgen Klopp is still without Luis Diaz, Arthur Melo, Calvin Ramsay, Thiago Alcantara, and Joe Gomez. Naby Keïta has a slight knock, so will probably miss out on the match day squad, once again. With news filtering from the club that Liverpool legend, Roberto Firmino, will be leaving the club, there will hopefully be a moment for him in this special game of games.
Alisson Becker will start in goal, with Virgil a certainty ahead of him. Ibrahima Konaté will surely retain his place, after an impressive comeback against Wolves. Kostas Tsimikas and Trent Alexander Arnold should be the starting fullbacks, after a good showing in the week. The midfield should hopefully see the midweek trio retained, with a level of control apparent, that had been missing without Thiago in the side. Stefan Bajčetić, Fabinho, and Harvey Elliott, were a throwback to when things actually worked, so it’s safe to say that they should hold onto their shirts.
This is such an important game, regardless of what the table states. What is interesting, however, is that if the reds were to win this game, it would place the reds just seven points behind the Old Trafford club. This is United’s best season in years, whereas the reds have had an horrendous campaign, overall. An away win solidifies the mild shift in power, yet if the home team get three points here, it could set them up nicely for another end of season siege.
Two battles will determine this game, and that will be the left sided forwards against their opponents respective right back. Rashford is on fire since the departure of Cristiano, but Darwin is our Raging Bull that could just set Anfield alight, and put his team right back in the mix. A quick start will be vital to success, and despite some high scoring affairs over the years, I can see a tight battle end in a narrow home win.
Player to watch – Darwin Núñez
Liverpool 1 – 0 Manchester United